LAS VEGAS — Federal investigators say pilot error caused a Grand Canyon tour helicopter crash that killed six people and badly hurt a seventh.

A National Transportation Safety Board report issued Thursday said the probable cause of the Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopter crash in August 2001 was the pilot's decision to descend too fast and too close to a scenic cliff near Meadview, Ariz.

The maneuver "effectively limited any remedial options" before impact, the report said.

One of several passengers interviewed about previous flights with the same pilot called the trip "frightening and thrilling at the same time," the report said.

Papillon Airways issued a statement in Las Vegas disputing the report and stressing its 38 years in business. It said it will seek more meetings with investigators.

"Papillon has been a party to this accident investigation and our preliminary conclusions are not consistent with those of the NTSB," said Brenda Halverson, company president and chief executive.

Safety board spokeswoman Lauren Peduzzi in Washington, D.C., declined additional comment on the report.

The pilot, Kevin Innocenti, 27, of Henderson, and five of six sightseers from New York died in the Aug. 10, 2001, crash about 60 miles east of Las Vegas.

The sole survivor, Chana Daskal, 28, suffered a broken back and burns over 85 percent of her body. A mother of two from Brooklyn, she was left paralyzed from the waist down, and her left leg and right foot were amputated.

Her lawyer, Gary C. Robb, of Kansas City, Mo., said she would not comment on the NTSB report.

Daskal's husband, David Daskal, and traveling companions Shayie Lichtenstein, Avi and Barbara Wajsbaum and Aryeh Zvi Fastag, all of Brooklyn, were killed.

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The NTSB reported no evidence of a mechanical malfunction before the American Eurocopter AS350-B2 helicopter crashed and burned in steep terrain about 600 yards below the rim of the scenic Grand Wash Cliffs.

The helicopter had refueled at the Grand Canyon West Airport near Meadview, and was headed back to Las Vegas when it crashed. The report said it appeared the engine stopped when the rotor hit the cliff wall.

Papillon, based in Grand Canyon, Ariz., faces several lawsuits, including a civil case filed by Daskal in Clark County District Court.

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Robb praised the thoroughness of the 47-page report, but said he wanted his own mechanics to determine whether the engine malfunctioned before the crash.

Daskal told rescuers immediately after the crash that the helicopter "got quiet and fell from the sky."

Her lawsuit alleges pilot error and a faulty engine, and also names the pilot's estate and American Eurocopter Corp. and Turbomeca Engine Corp., two manufacturers of helicopter and engine parts in Grand Prairie, Texas; and Zuni LLC, a Washington-based helicopter retailer. No trial date has been set, Robb said.

The crash was the deadliest canyon tour accident since 1995, when a plane crashed while trying to return to Grand Canyon Airport, killing eight people.

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— Arizona Daily Sun

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